Friends: better late than never?

Think of the sound of fingernails dragging on a chalkboard. Now, think of what it's like to wait for a friend who is constantly late.

How many times can you flip through the same menu because she's not there yet? Can you count the opening scenes of movies you've missed because of his tardiness?

Maybe it's time to erase the friend from your speed dial. Or maybe not.
"Remember the person's good qualities," coaxes Diana DeLonzor, a consultant who has spent much of her life studying people who are forever late. She argues that relationships are too precious to abandon because of one flaw.

So what's a prompt person to do about friends who abuse their time commitments?

"The first thing I tell friends is it's important to understand it's not about you," says DeLonzor, whose time-management books include "Never Be Late Again." It's not that they don't respect your time or think that their time is more valuable than yours, she says. Mostly, they just can't help it.

"Telling a late person to just be on time is like telling a dieter to just not eat so much," DeLonzor says.

She suggests some partial recourses:

- Talk to them about how their being late makes you feel. "Explain to them that it really bothers you," she says.

- Set some guidelines - but make them as fun as possible. Example: if your friend is more than 15 minutes late for dinner, she has to buy the wine. "If you make it so that there's something in it for you and there's a little bit of a penalty for them, you feel like there's a bonus for having waited," she says.

- Ask the friend to call with an update, which will then allow you to run an errand or do something else in the interim.

- Go to DeLonzor's Web site and order a free tardiness citation, which is sent anonymously to your friend (

- Build in the person's late factor when you set a time. If your friend runs a half-hour late, tell him to meet you at the jogging trail at 8:30 a.m. and plan to get there at 9 a.m. DeLonzor doesn't advocate leaving the restaurant or the movie theater if the person doesn't show up by a certain time. Her reasoning: Besides frustrating both of you, you end up not getting to see the show or eat the dinner.

Instead, if something's time-certain - a movie or concert or play - make plans to meet for coffee an hour ahead of the event, she says. For other outings, bring a book or something else to pass the time. "I don't think it's worth ruining the friendship over," she repeats. "I think it's better to work out a compromise."

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